Handling Errors Published Online

Posted on Saturday, June 29, 2019 at 8:34 PM

To correct or not to correct after an article has been posted online? We've covered this dilemma before, but it bears repeating now.

By Meredith L. Dias

What is the best course of action when you've printed a story online that contains grammatical, punctuation, attribution, or even factual errors? Which mistakes require further comment? What corrections policy will best serve your readers?

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) code of ethics states that "journalists should ... admit mistakes and correct them promptly." Some editors interpret this literally, calling out fixes of even the most minor grammatical errors. Others ignore the SPJ tenet completely and scrub their stories of significant errors without comment (i.e., delete or edit content without issuing a correction or retraction). Still others differentiate between minor technical errors and more substantial errors that require correction notices. One of our readers once told us, "If it is a simple typo, we'll fix it without comment -- or delay.... If something was factually incorrect, including the spelling of someone's name, we will correct it in the current version, plus under the heading 'Correction.'"

How should editors of online publications differentiate between innocuous errors and ones that require further comment? Years ago the Hartford Courant published a story entitled "Putnam Police Training Could Be at Fault for Woodstock Fair Shooting." The story was published online at 10:12 p.m. on a Monday and attracted two comments in response to the following sentence: "Because the pullet [sic] was travelling [sic] such little velocity when it struck the man, it may have passed through a berm or other structure intended to stop the bullets, Vance said." In response, "Susan5868" asked, "Does anyone proof read this stuff before publication?" Another reader, "phucer," replied simply, "Ugh."

The next day the same article bore a new title: "Stray Bullet That Hit Man May Have Come from a Putnam Police Officer." In the revised article, the aforementioned sentence had undergone some cosmetic surgery: "Because the bullet was traveling at such a low velocity when it struck the man, it might have passed through a berm or other structure intended to stop the bullets, Vance said." All of these changes were implemented without notice to the reader; however, "phucer" provided a link to the original, unedited article in the revised article's responses.

What can we learn from this? Over the years, many of our readers have said that typographical or grammatical errors do not warrant a correction notice; however, the reader response to the Courant article provided an interesting counterpoint to this editorial consensus. Though publications generally agree that grammatical tweaks can be scrubbed from the record without further comment, readers may want transparency in even the simplest online edits.

When scrubbing grammatical or spelling errors from the record, editors ought to ask themselves: Will any readers be disadvantaged in the process? It's also important to remember that unacknowledged edits can introduce errors into the journalistic record. For instance, if a publication misspells Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe's name and edits without comment, this will do little to alter the historical record -- in context, even with the misspelling, the subject of the article will be clear. However, if a publication misspells an unknown person's name and later scrubs the mistake, this could alter the record if secondary sources have already attributed quotes and information to the erroneous name.

When EO first covered this topic, we contacted several dozen editors and publications on Twitter regarding their online corrections policies. Based on click-throughs to the page containing our survey questions, there seemed to be considerable interest in the topic. Only a handful responded, however. Are editors generally reluctant to discuss their online correction protocols? Or perhaps they haven't developed concrete policies. It's still an open question.

Meredith Dias is senior editor at Editors Only and the STRAT newsletter. Add your comment.

Forging Ahead Editorially, Part II

Posted on Saturday, June 29, 2019 at 8:33 PM

Today's editorial challenges seem to require editors to be miracle workers.

By Howard Rauch

Striving to improve our publications despite today's editorial challenges was my focus in Part I. In it I presented five ideas for doing more with less:

--Doing a better job of raising our prestige flag.

--Creating an editorial portfolio that livens up marketing presentations.

--Asking yourself why someone should want to work for you.

--Offering the highest possible e-news enterprise delivery.

--Sponsoring in-house editorial expertise competition.

With the weight on our shoulders for editorial improvement, it behooves us to reflect upon our own roles as editors and managers. Throughout the management upheaval in our evolving business, a never-ending reality that confronts us is our ability to fulfill multiple roles.

The list of hats that editors are expected to wear is quite long. In a sense we are asked to be miracle workers. If you agree, how are you making out? What follows is an exercise that may reflect possible need for improvement.

Take the Test

For each of the roles in this list, rate your performance on a scale of 1 to 10. If your total score is less than 85, you may want to review the roles where you can improve your rating and consider how you can do so.

Rate your miracle worker status:

Magician: Constantly delivers top-quality content despite being frequently saddled with a restricted budget.

Assassin: Candidly assesses editorial strength/weakness versus the competition, then provides evaluation results to the marketing group.

Marketing Wizard: Periodically recommends projects/supplements that offer solid ad potential for marketing purposes.

Technology Expert: Rarely baffled by computer and website glitches.

Graphics Guru: Conjures up snazzy layout ideas. Also battles proposed designs that are esthetically interesting but less than reader friendly.

Show-Business Pro: Always a star performer before audiences and constantly in demand as a speaker.

Teacher: Personally involved in training and providing feedback to staff members. Embraces reality of training as a never-ending task.

Industry Maven/Statistician: Data-adept in terms of creating, interpreting, and publishing surveys that address groundbreaking issues.

Customer Service Specialist: Adheres to a written policy describing optional ways to resolve editorial complaints.

Visible Editorial Contributor: This role is especially critical for editors-in-chief. If your contribution per issue rarely goes beyond an editorial column, you are falling short. Maximum score on this factor is possible only for editorial managers who consistently byline timely features.

Now add up your ratings.

How did you score?

If you find this exercise useful, my book for B2B editors, Get Serious About Editorial Management, includes six other self-scoring profiles covering field-editor presence, complaint handling, feature writing, avoiding job burnout, trade show coverage, and maintaining a strong marketing arsenal.

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions, Inc., a B2B consultation provider launched in 1989. His specialties are e-news delivery, competitive analysis, and editorial performance measurement. Howard is recipient of ASBPE's Lifetime Achievement Award and spent two terms as chairman of the group's ethics committee.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, June 29, 2019 at 8:33 PM

Assessing the readability of an NYMag.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index sample comes from a June 27 NYMag.com piece ("Can You Spot a Deepfake? Does It Matter?" by Max Read). Here's the sample, with longer words in italics:

"Were either of the videos 'deepfakes,' or even just regular old staged fakes? Probably not -- but the difficulty of ascertaining, clearly, one way or another, the veracity of the videos, is the point. Deepfakes aren't a cause of misinformation, so much as a kind of symptom -- a technology that's only really relevant to us because we already live in a world that's having trouble settling on a consensus account of reality, and whose greatest use isn't creating fakes but undermining our ability to ascertain what's true. If you want a vision of the future, don't imagine an onslaught of fake video. Imagine an onslaught of commenters calling every video fake. Imagine a politician saying 'he has not been working out at the gym in a while, and his body isn't as built as in the video,' forever."

--Word count: 137 words
--Average sentence length: 23 words (13, 20, 53, 15, 9, 27)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 16 percent (22/137 words)
--Fog Index (23+16)* .4 = 15 (15.6, no rounding)

We have a high percentage of longer words: 16 percent. But at a glance we can see a more blatant culprit: the 53-word third sentence. We need to cut at least 4 points from the current Fog Index to reach our ideal score (below 12).

"Were either of the videos 'deepfakes,' or even just plain old staged fakes? Probably not -- but the difficulty of ascertaining clearly, one way or another, the videos' veracity, is the point. Deepfakes aren't so much a cause of misinformation as they are a kind of symptom. The technology only pertains to us because we live in a world that's having trouble reaching a consensus on reality. Its greatest use isn't creating fakes but undermining our ability to figure out what's true. If you want a vision of the future, don't picture an onslaught of fake video. Picture an onslaught of commenters calling every video fake. Picture a politician saying, 'He has not worked out at the gym in a while, and his body isn't as built as it is in the video,' forever."

--Word count: 133 words
--Average sentence length: 17 words (13, 18, 15, 20, 15, 15, 9, 28)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 12 percent (16/133 words)
--Fog Index (17+12)* .4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding

We addressed both sentence length and the number of longer words in our edit. Our crowning achievement was turning the 53-word sentence into 3 separate sentences, adding 2 sentences to the total count. This went a long way in cutting the Fog.

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Google Chrome Privacy/Subscription Publishing

Posted on Saturday, June 29, 2019 at 8:30 PM

In the news: How upcoming changes to Chrome's privacy software are resonating with subscription publishers.

Later next month, reports Max Willens of Digiday.com, "a software update to Chrome will make websites unable to detect whether visitors are browsing the web in 'incognito mode.'" The news comes as a blow to publishers who, says Willens, "had figured out how to detect which users were browsing in incognito mode, and had started blocking access to their content until they registered with the site or purchased a subscription.

A lot of these publishers aren't happy about the expected software update and have raised their concerns with Google. The two entities have hit somewhat of an ideological impasse: "Publishers saw a loophole they'd worked hard to close beginning to reopen; Google saw work being done to correct a bug in the name of protecting user privacy," writes Willens.

There may not be much publishers can do to counter this change, but how much does it matter, anyway? Willens raises an interesting question about the value of the potential lost audience. "While industry wisdom holds that people who use incognito mode tend not to become subscribers," he writes, "there is anecdotal evidence that blocking access among those users works."

Read more here.

Also Notable

Writing about Disabilities

How should reporters approach stories about disabilities? In a recent JournalistsResource.org piece, Chloe Reichel discusses some of the traps reporters fall into when writing disability-related content. She discusses the two story categories that, according to Kristin Gilger (director of the National Center on Disability and Journalism), crop up the most. "The first category is what Gilger calls 'inspiration porn....' The second category consists of crime stories."

Reichel shares Journalist Resource's four tips for journalists cover mental and physical disabilities. Among them: letting the subjects speak for and characterize themselves and include people with disabilities in more than just disability stories. Read more here.

Cutting Print Costs to Boost Profits

Print magazine publishers walk a fine line between trimming print budgets and ensuring their long-term survival. Beth Braverman of Foliomag.com discusses the issue in a June 27 Foliomag.com article. Erin O'Mara of The Nation sums up the problem in Braverman's piece: that austerity measures don't work in the long term. So the trend, Braverman writes, is "toward fewer, higher quality issues ... as publishers continue implementing frequency reductions in print magazines." These cuts in production costs, paired with increased automation where possible, can make a big difference in a magazine's profitability. Read more here.

REI Shutters Catalog, Launches Print Magazine

Outdoors retail giant REI is stopping production of its mail catalog. In its place will be a quarterly print magazine published in partnership with Hearst. According to Adrianne Pasquarelli of AdAge.com, Uncommon Path will focus on outdoor recreation stories. The publishing partnership is similar to the one Hearst has forged with Airbnb, says Pasquarelli. She reports that the magazine will sell in REI stores and at bookstores and newsstands nationwide at a cover price of $4.95. Read more here.

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